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Apra-IL Blog

You Should Write a Blog About That!

As part of our goal to share industry and career-related information to colleagues in the fundraising development field, we encourage you to contact us if you would like to contribute to our blog. 

Current 2022 Blog Series:

T.R.U.S.T - What Does Collaboration Mean to You?

Completed in 2021/2020: 

The Research Rabbit Hole

The Hot Seat

The Prospect Development Professional's Haven

Questions, Questions, Read all About the Answers!

Placing a Seat at the Table

  • Mon, August 09, 2021 4:54 PM | Anonymous

    Welcome to the Research Rabbit Hole - a blog series exploring all the fun, random paths we end up on at work. Today's entry is from Joan Ogwumike, Prospect Research Associate at the Obama Foundation.

    Throughout our tenures as prospect researchers, we experience and conduct a genealogical search at least once – you know, the search in which a family tree is uncovered, explained, and analyzed. Well, my most recent search was unlike any before it. It was the year 2021, the Summer was hot, and Covid 19 masks were optional. The research request was based on an email from a daughter inquiring on how to get her parents more philanthropically involved with the mission. From there, my quest began – who were her parents, and what was their capacity? First, I searched high and low for more information on the daughter, learning occupation, spouse, and aha, alma mater! By knowing her alma mater, I hoped that I could find a graduation roaster. If I could find that, somewhere in the depths of Vint Cerf and Beyonce’s internet, then I could find her maiden name which would help me find her parents.

    After an hour of selective keyword searches, I was able to find a scanned graduation program, and most importantly, the daughter’s maiden name. As I searched for any results on the name, I was able to find her grandmother and grandfather’s obituaries, which also listed her parents. This was a joyous moment, one of those moments when you sat back in your seat and felt accomplished because, finally, the parents were found.

    But yes, now you are realizing it too…I had spent all of that time figuring out the parents’ names. Hours, spent on names, meant that now the actual prospective research was to begin.

    Long story short, the parents were wealthy, what more could be said?

  • Mon, July 12, 2021 5:14 PM | Anonymous

    Welcome to the Research Rabbit Hole - a blog series exploring all the fun, random paths we end up on at work. Today's entry is from Kathryn Thomas, Senior Prospect Identification Analyst at the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association.

    How many of us in Prospect Research have done a biographical profile, capacity review, or contact update on Oprah Winfrey? How about Bill & Melinda Gates, MacKenzie Scott, or Sheryl Sandberg? And how many of our organizations have, in turn, received a gift from them? We all know, after working in this field for just days or weeks, that there are white whales of philanthropy. People whose names are quietly vetted by boards in closed conference rooms or lauded as program saviors in prospecting brainstorms.

    A request came through our research request queue that perfectly describes my relationship with this type of prospect. One of our campus units focused on environmental sustainability met with their board and a name had been floated as the perfect campaign lead. For the sake of this conversation, I’ll call him “Jack.” You may know Jack; he is infamous for his shenanigans in the middle of the ocean – dancing a jig, falling in love, and tragically drowning despite the availability of a perfectly good, floating raft-like device.

    Although his exploits in the ocean didn’t end well, Jack has a passion for clean water. Therefore, he was the perfect whale for our campus unit. The problem, from a researcher’s standpoint, wasn’t affinity, but access. Jack’s contact information wasn’t going to come up on LexisNexis or the YellowPages. His cell phone number and business numbers were as closely guarded as Rose’s grip on that door!

    At this point, I was ready for a little research treat (some cerebral junk food to balance out the healthy diet of easy-to-answer capacity review questions and address updates). So, despite knowing it was a longshot and anticipating my request would end up with a recommendation to reach out to Jack’s foundation through formal channels, the hunt was on! And let me tell you, Jack has formidable fans. Sometimes it’s scary how much information we’re able to discover about our prospects, but when researching a celebrity, the information skews less scary and more … odd. I was able to, within an hour, describe where Jack likes to lunch, how he takes his coffee, and his suit measurements. Within two hours, I could name every country he had visited for his philanthropic work, every woman he had ever looked at, and his childhood pet. And within three, I found several addresses, email address, and phone numbers.

    In the end, I did not share this contact information with our Development Officer. Not only would contacting Jack on his cell phone be unprofessional, I was certain it would also wig him out and not engender positive feelings toward the cause. But if ever we have dire (and relevant) need of another celebrity phone number, I know just the rabbit hole to jump down.

  • Mon, June 07, 2021 4:04 PM | Anonymous

    Welcome to the Research Rabbit Hole - a blog series exploring all the fun, random paths we end up on at work. Today's entry is from Tesha Pittenger, Prospect Research Analyst at the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association.

    Prospects Who Invent Their Own Countries

    I’m relatively new to prospect research; August will mark my two-year anniversary in the field. One of the characteristics I love best about my work is its variability – you never know where a research request will lead. I’ve learned of the myriad ways wealth can be acquired (having a lumber baron for an ancestor, producing meat products, inventing just the right thing at just the right time) and stumbled across fascinating family histories (living in Nazi-occupied Holland, being a distant relative of a famous advice columnist, having a child who represented a country in the Winter Olympics in its first ever appearance). I can safely say, though, that I never expected to research royalty, much less the royal members of a country I had never heard of.

    Earlier this year, a development officer had received an inquiry from a micronation representative and asked the Research Team for more information. I volunteered for the request and thus encountered my deepest research rabbit hole: the world of micronations. Defined broadly, micronations are political and generally small or virtual entities that declare their independence but are not internationally recognized. They can range in size; the Kingdom of Lovely, created as part of the BBC show How to Start Your Own Country, had an East London flat as its official territory, while Sealand is a metal platform off the coast of England. Their motivations are equally varied. Karo Lyn started the Ambulatory Free States of Obsidia as a self-proclaimed “ridiculous project.” The Principality of Hutt River began as a dispute with the Australian government over wheat production quotas, and Giorgio Rosa created Rose Island as a symbol of freedom. Micronations have produced their own currencies, flags, governing documents, postal systems, holidays, citizen applications, and more, depending on their leaders’ ambitions and priorities. Primarily, established nations ignore them, but there are some notable exceptions – the Italian Navy seized control of Rose Island in 1968 and used explosives to dismantle it in 1969.

    As it pertains to development – though an individual can claim a country, announce that they are royalty, and express interest in making a gift – they may not be a good prospect. Cryptocurrency created by a fake nation certainly isn’t worth the same as Bitcoin…at least not yet. A kingdom may be more virtual than actual real estate assets. The title of “dictator” could evoke reputational risk concerns.

    Time will tell what the results of my specific research will yield; however, an assignment to delve into micronations epitomizes the kind of fun and diverse requests that a prospect researcher can encounter. I’m happy to have joined the team!

  • Wed, May 05, 2021 10:06 AM | Anonymous

    The Hot Seat is a series in which prominent industry experts answer grueling questions stemming from prospect research to consulting to analytics. How will they do under pressure? Read to find out!

    Beth Bandy is principal of Beth Bandy Research + Consulting (www.bethbandy.com). She has been an independent researcher, trainer, and consultant serving not-for-profit organizations around the world since 2011. Her weekly International Prospect Research Newsletter has been going out more-or-less regularly since 2012. Her clients include independent schools, colleges and universities, museums, hospitals, and global NGOs. She has delivered training sessions on fundraising, operations, and governance issues for organizations in the US, Canada, the EU, and South Africa. Earlier in her career, Beth worked for Harvard University’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations; was Director of Development Research at Amherst College; and contributed to fundraising efforts at Bennington College in various capacities, including as Manager of Research and Director of Advancement Operations. 

    1. Do you ever collaborate with prospect researchers or other non-profit professionals in the countries that you are researching, for help or advice? Is collaboration and networking important when trying to learn about wealth in other countries?

      I think networking is important in general. As researchers, we are an inquisitive bunch. Touching base with colleagues in other parts of the world can be a fascinating experience, giving us insights into the day-to-day realities of working in the not-for-profit sector outside of the United States. That said, I have not collaborated with prospect researchers in other countries when working on specific research projects or to learn about wealth trends around the world. 

      I started doing international prospect research in the early 2000s and was working regularly on international projects by 2005. Back then, the prospect research profession was mostly centered in the US and other English-speaking countries (Canada, UK, and Australia) where it was relatively easy to figure out how to find the information I needed about prospects. When I researched prospects in other countries – from France to Mexico to Bhutan – there were no prospect researchers (that I knew of, at least) to contact. 

      In the absence of people to ask about wealth and philanthropy in other countries, I developed a two-part system of doing international research that I still use today. The first part involves asking a series of questions to find the best data sources. Who collects the data I need and why? Do they make that collected data available to the public? If so, is it in an electronic format that I can access from the United States? If not, what other sources might be available? The second part involves self-education. There are many research and philanthropy organizations around the world that regularly release reports on business, compensation, real estate, and giving trends. In addition to reading a lot of these kinds of reports, which are invaluable for understanding global wealth, I have hundreds of alerts set up for search terms related to wealth, business, and philanthropy. I also scan news feeds of dozens of international magazines and newspapers each week. My understanding of wealth around the world primarily comes from working in this system for a long time. 

    2. True or False: There are not enough resources or trainings on international research. Please explain your answer. Also, please tell readers about any resources that have helped you in your career so far. 

      Regarding resources for international prospect research, false. There are lots of resources available for this kind of work. It is difficult to find them, however, because they generally are not available through centralized databases and often are in languages other than English. 

      Regarding trainings, true. Some country-specific trainings are available, and these can be immensely helpful when you plan to research prospects in a particular country within the next six months to a year. Beyond that point, old resources may become obsolete and new resources may emerge. 

      One of the exciting things I find about doing international prospect research is that it requires a strategy for finding the sources you need, regardless of where a prospect lives. There are not enough classes that focus on developing an international research strategy, even though this process is essential.  

      Prospect researchers may tackle only a few international projects a year. How do you get up-and-running on an occasional international project without the ability to quickly figure out what sources might be available and best to use when you need them? When a researcher leaves one organization and joins another, they may find that they suddenly need to research prospects in countries for which they have no existing list of resources. How do you gain the professional flexibility to do international prospects for different organizations during your prospect research career? Having a solid international research strategy is the key.

      When I started doing international prospect research, there were not many opportunities for training in international prospect research. I began collecting lists resources and looking for patterns in how data was collected and shared. Along the way, I found lots of country-specific wealth lists, salary surveys, philanthropy trend reports, and other resources that provided context for my work. You can see examples of these kinds of resources on my Pinterest account: https://www.pinterest.com/BethBandyResearch/_saved.

    3. When it comes to researching international prospects, what are 3 challenges prospect development professionals and fundraisers ask you advice on, and what are your responses?

      • Will my prospect in [fill in the blank] country want to give?

        As with prospects here in the United States, your prospects in other parts of the world will have individual reasons to make (or to not make) gifts to your organization. More broadly, there are many philanthropic trends reports for countries and regions around the world. Examples include the India Philanthropy Report, which has been released annually by Bain India, for many years (https://www.bain.com/insights/india-philanthropy-report-2021). You can find these reports by Googling the name of the country or region with terms like “philanthropy report.” Some reports may not be available in English, so you also can try searching in your prospect’s local language and then using a translation tool to help you read the report if it is in a language that is not familiar to you.
      • Why can’t I find anything about my prospect in China?

        There could be many answers to this question, but often the first stumbling block has to do with not having the Chinese characters for the prospect’s name. There are many places to look for these characters – but no guarantee that you will find them. For top company executives, places to try include the Chinese-language versions of corporate websites and public company filings, as well as corporate registration materials, which will be in Chinese only. If you cannot read Chinese, use a translation tool to help you find the correct person by job title.
      • Where can I find a deed for my prospect’s house?

        Here in the United States, we are used to being able to look up property ownership records by an individual’s name. This option is generally not available in other parts of the world. In some places, such as in Montreal, you can search by address and find the owners name on public record. In other places, you might find property records without any names listed. Many countries do not make real estate records available publicly at all.

        This situation is one in which having a solid international research strategy is key. Start by asking basic questions: Who collects real estate data and why? Are property records collected by a local government office or perhaps a national land registry? Are the collected records made available to the public in an electronic format that is accessible from your computer?

        In the absence of public records like deeds and assessments, you will need to find comparable values for neighboring properties. Try checking recent sale prices on local real estate websites in your prospect’s local language. Large real estate companies and government agencies also may put out real estate price trend data that can be helpful in your search.
  • Fri, April 02, 2021 2:10 PM | Anonymous

    The Hot Seat is a series in which prominent industry experts answer grueling questions stemming from prospect research to consulting to analytics. How will they do under pressure? Read to find out!

    Ruthie Giles is a thought leader in the field of prospect management. She is a straightforward, big picture thinker with an analytical mind and a passion for systems, analytics, and strategy. Ruthie is the Associate Director of Advancement Services at Westfield State University. Previously, she worked at Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, Harold Grinspoon Foundation, The Loomis Chaffee School, and The Williston Northampton School. Ruthie has 5 cats and a dog, she is often found powerlifting at the gym, and embraces being a data nerd as if it were the most coveted superpower in the universe.


    1. How can we reimagine portfolio analysis with an eye for collaboration between fundraisers and prospect development professionals?

      Portfolio analysis is the new and improved version of portfolio review. We are no longer reviewing a portfolio and the prospect within it. We are looking at the portfolio as a whole, doing data analysis on it to discover not only what is working well, but what is being overlooked and where to find the “white noise”. Portfolio analysis includes, directing fundraisers towards areas of opportunity and challenges, while making room for new opportunities; helping fundraisers become more efficient and effective in their efforts by offering them multiple strategies for various scenarios in their portfolio; And, transforming the old style of portfolio review meetings and fundraiser team meetings into meetings where we talk collaboratively about strategy. We need these meetings to be the forums in which we share what is working and what is not, and offer insight through various lenses of our work.

      I know of fundraising shops that have seamlessly and brilliantly integrated prospect management and portfolio analysis with their frontline fundraisers. The silos are gone, the egos are set aside, and no longer is the phrase “but we have always done it that way” being muttered. The team looks to data and prospect research to help guide their strategy and help tailor their portfolios. The data and the work of prospect development professionals build the foundation for fundraisers’ success. This is an ideal configuration for any fundraising office; however, it is currently the exception and not the rule. 

      To achieve this level of “fundraising nirvana”, a paradigm shift is necessary in the entire nonprofit sector. Currently, we are in the early stages, and I expect that we will see this change happen one shop at a time until we reach the tipping point where everyone recognizes it as a best practice, and everyone scrambles to institute it. This type of transformation takes time, and it counts on there being buy-in at various levels. It also requires a leap of faith, jumping away from the way things have always been done, toward a new way of approaching our work. But the return on investment for making this leap is worth it, and the shops who have already gone this route can prove it. As Darth Vader once said to a young Luke Skywalker, "Join me and together we can rule the galaxy”.

    2. What is a rule of thumb that motivates you through your everyday tasks?

      Years ago, I heard a story that originated in a conversation by English architect Sir Christopher Wren (1623-1732) during the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire. In this story, Sir Wren came upon three men who were working. He asked the first man “What are you doing?” and the man replied “I am laying bricks”. He posed the same question to the second man who replied “I am building a wall” when he asked the same question to the third man he replied “I am building a cathedral.” While the three men performed the exact same task, their responses demonstrated how each saw that task through a different lens.

      On a daily basis, we all do various tasks at work. We look up information, we do data entry, we reply to colleagues, we learn new skills, we write profiles, we create lists, we make recommendations, and we discuss strategies. We all make our own choice as to how we view our efforts. While I often think I am simply “laying bricks” I know that my ultimate goal is to “build a temple”.  

      When I go into the office, turn on my computer and check my email, I am not there to perform a task, pull a list, write a profile, or strategize with colleagues. I am there so a deserving young person has the means to attend the university, has the tools and resources necessary for their courses, and has access to quality professors. My work is important because these young people will go on to become our accountants, police officers, nurses, social workers, bankers, doctors, entrepreneurs, innovators, entertainers, teachers, veterinarians, librarians, mayors, nonprofit professionals, and perhaps even prospect researchers. In order for them to be the very best at their future profession, I need to make sure that I do my job well.  Not to sound overly dramatic, but I get up in the morning and do my job because the future depends on it.  

      I think of it like the hologram message from Princess Leia saying “Help me Obi Wan, you’re my only hope” – I wake up in the morning and choose to be the Obi Wan to my organization’s Leia …. Every. Single. Day.   Seriously, what better motivation is there than that?

    3. True or False: Prospect Management is difficult, and it takes a long time to get everyone onboard with policy changes and portfolio management. Please explain your reasoning. 

      This is both true and false.  

      There is often one initial early adopter, and they are vital to getting your entire team onboard with a new prospect management system. The initial early adopter is a risk taker and a trailblazer. They are open to fully immersing themselves in this new approach to achieve better outcomes, in spite of the fact that no one has yet proven that the prospect management system works as promised. They would follow the teachings of Yoda: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” They are a strong partner with prospect management and an advocate for it. Every shop should be lucky enough to have an initial early adopter on their team.  

      Without this initial early adopter, things are a bit more of a challenge in getting everyone on board.  People do not like change. There have been numbers of studies and papers on the topic of why people resist change. When faced with a team firmly grounded in their resistance to change, it takes a long time to get everyone on board. You will need to go over the new policies and procedures ad nauseam, and do a fair amount of hand holding as each team member tentatively dips their toes into the prospect management pool. All the while, you sit there like Darth Vader thinking “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

      And in either situation - there is always the laggard - that one person who is the last to get on board with the implementation of prospect management in an advancement shop. These are the individuals who have an aversion to change and adhere strongly to their personal mantra of “this is the way we have always done it”. That person may hold out for years on fully embracing the prospect management system, and even then, they may still long for the old ways of doing things. In those cases, you must simply be comfortable with the fact that you cannot get the laggard to be fully on board, and turn your focus to the remainder of the team who have made the adjustment. 

  • Tue, March 02, 2021 10:06 AM | Anonymous

    The Hot Seat is a series in which prominent industry experts answer grueling questions stemming from prospect research to consulting to analytics. How will they do under pressure? Read to find out!

    David Lawson is a leader in bringing actionable insights to the fundraising community. He is the CEO and Co-founder of NewSci, LLC and author of the notable book, Big Good: Philanthropy in the Age of Big Data & Cognitive Computing. Additional career highlights include but are not limited to - In 1997, he founded Prospect Information Network (P!N), which became the largest wealth screening company before being purchased in 2004. In 2014, he was among the early application developers approved to use IBM Watson. And, David is the recipient of the Apra Distinguished Service Award and the CASE Crystal Apple Award for Teaching Excellence. If you have any questions for David, you can reach him at David@NewSci.ai

    1. True or false: Data is a renewable resource – vulnerable and valuable. Please explain why with your answer. 

      The blessing and the curse of data is it never stops being created, so while some call data the new oil, it is more like the sun, constantly generating new data and combining data to create even more for us to consume and make sense of. So, data is renewable in the truest sense of the word.

      As to vulnerability, data presents special challenges because it can so easily be transferred between entities and individuals. That ease puts a premium on an organization's data governance capabilities. Too often data is merely stored instead of managed and that leads to data breaches and data leaks. Data is also vulnerable to becoming out-of-date or irrelevant. Two big vulnerabilities are the quality of the data and missing data. Ensuring data quality is a full-time job, and identifying missing data, including why it is missing, is too often overlooked and leads to erroneous information and insights.

      The value of data is closely linked to the ability or inability for it to be turned into actionable insights. Without the insight, it is just a collection of facts and data points, and without actions, the insights are rarely turned into something of high value.

      My experience over the years with wealth screening has been that the organizations who combine the data obtained from a screening vendor with internal information in order to go beyond just wealth indicators, and then integrate the insights into their fundraising processes, are the ones who realize the highest return on their investment. 

      Truly appreciating the value of data requires an organization to see data acquisition and analysis not as a cost-center, but rather as a profit-center. To make your case look at the value of the insights you provide such as what is the mean major gift from newly discovered prospects. Multiply that by the number of new prospects and you have a potential Return on Insight formula, and you can of course use the actuals to show the value already realized. For lower level donors, look at direct mail and marketing. You need a correct address in order to potentially receive a gift, so it is fair to highlight the amount of donations received through the mail from people who had a corrected address (or a correct email) in the last year. If you really want to show executives how valuable keeping track of people is, calculate the life-time value of your donors and then use that as you multiplier.

      Machine learning, natural language processing, and deep learning, known collectively as AI, are making data exponentially more valuable. At the same time, this technology has the potential to dramatically increase the vulnerability of data as it requires the aggregation of more and more sources to create the algorithms used to glean insights. Monitoring the quality of all the data going into an AI-powered platform requires new levels of data governance especially around data provenance to ensure you know from where data came. Privacy regulations such as GDPR are making it mandatory for organizations to be able to explain how their algorithms work which means you have to know what data was used, how it was used, and its origin. We can expect this type of data regulation to become more prevalent as algorithms are more deeply integrated into our everyday lives making the consequences of data bias and misuse even more consequential

    2. What is our argument for the ethical use of data analytics in the nonprofit sector?

      Being data-driven has become a cliche, but it became one because it is critical to an organization’s success. For a nonprofit organization this is even more true because they do not have resources to waste being data-blind. Before analytics, organizations ran on intuition and gut instincts. In a small nonprofit you might get away with this approach much as a startup company relies heavily on the passion and knowledge of its founders. Once an organization matures it is frankly unethical to keep operating without a deeper understanding of what is happening within the organization and to use that understanding to make better decisions.

      This does not, however, give a nonprofit free reign to do whatever data collecting and analysis they want to do. Just because one is doing good with data does not give one a pass on not doing that good as ethically as possible. Keep in mind data ethics isn’t just about you and your organization. It is also about the sources of data you acquire and the companies you use to manage your data. They too must adhere to the same standards you set for your organization. 

      Data ethics begins with establishing clear values and principles for how your organization sources, collects, stores, analyzes, transmits, and uses data. With these in hand you can build an ethics-first data governance program to support your organization’s actionable insights needs.

    3. What are some strategies for effective data collection? 

      Start with cataloging all of your current data. This is a daunting task, but easier now that there are platforms specifically designed to help you create one. The data catalog needs to be across your entire organization, not just in a departmental silo. You will be amazed, and at times shocked, by where data resides and who has access to it.

      With the data catalog as the foundation, you can begin a deeper analysis of the quality of your data as well as identifying missing data. This is never a fun exercise as you will surely find serious quality issues and critical data completely absent. Rather than fear what you will find, recognize the first step in data governance is accepting the inherent imperfections of data. What is important is to then establish processes to increase the quality of your data and minimize instances of missing data.

      With the catalog and data analysis completed, you can focus on data provenance, also known as data lineage. This provides a clear picture of the sources of data, enabling you to accurately trace issues and errors back to their source and, if a breach occurs, where it happened and what data was impacted. Whether it is an internal source such as your gift processing team or an external data provider, knowing where, when, and who your data came from can no longer be ignored if your goal is to have an ethical, effective, and efficient data collection operation.

      Given the speed at which data is created, collected, and analyzed, it is also worth considering an anomaly detection system. How you monitor for anomalies will depend on the frequency and importance of the data being monitored. You want to find a balance between being alerted to anomalies in time to take action, and not having so many alerts you start to ignore them. To help make the case for anomaly detection, take a data point such as the amount of a donation and trace it through your reports, dashboards, analytics, and predictive models dependent on the data to show, for example, the negative impact of a $1,000 gift being entered as $100,000 or meetings with campaign prospects not being recorded. Anomaly detection was something we did a lot of in my wealth screening company, Prospect Information Network (P!N). What we found was data providers during an update would not always send everything we were expecting. Because of the large volume of data, it would have been easy to miss, for instance, one county's real estate records, and only through anomaly detection were we able to find missing data and fix it!
  • Tue, February 02, 2021 3:22 PM | Anonymous

    The Hot Seat is a series in which prominent industry experts answer grueling questions stemming from prospect research to consulting to analytics. How will they do under pressure? Read to find out!

    Kelly Labrecque is a senior researcher at the Helen Brown Group. Prior to joining HBG in 2013, she was a research analyst at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the Division of Development & Jimmy Fund as part of the prospect identification team. Kelly began her career in development in 2008 as an administrative assistant in Major Gifts at Wheaton College. When not doing research, you can find her at the barn with her horse, JP.


    1. When do you find conducting research difficult, and when do you find joy? 

      I think regardless of the level of difficulty of the task, I always derive joy from my work. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be in this business. That said, there are times of frustration. In particular, when I can’t find visible asset information for a prospect when my “spidey senses” are telling me he or she clearly has capacity. I tend to convert that frustration into creative energy – developing new ways to look at and think about wealth, philanthropy, and the process of cultivation itself. I think the most rewarding part of the job is when your organization or client gets a transformational gift as a result of your hard work!

    2. When prospecting what is the last thing a prospect researcher should ever do?

      Aside from the typical ethical standards, one thing I have learned over the years is “don’t judge a book by its cover.” I know it’s trite, but hear me out. I often think about the tag line from the book The Millionaire Next Door (Stanley and Danko, 1996),“most of the truly wealthy in this country don’t live in Beverly Hills or on Park Avenue-they live next door.” Researchers need to dig deeper than the typical trappings of wealth in order to truly understand the extent of capacity. Delving not only into giving history and career, but genealogy, hobbies, and social connections.

    3. What would be the perfect research tool, if you could create it? What would it be able to offer? What would be its downsides? 

      As far as I’m concerned, we already have the most perfect research tool -- the prospect researcher. No amount of machine learning or software can replace what we bring to the table. We are able to offer actionable intelligence to our teams by providing detailed, thoughtful insight into the wealth, capacity, and inclination of donor and prospects. We also bring a human element to the profession – we can put ourselves in the shoes of our donor – what information would we want or not want to see in a profile about ourselves? Would this project or program interest this prospect or are we wasting their time? Is now a good time to make an ask if they just sent their son to college? I’m sure many in the technology industry would differ with me in their opinion on this subject. But I dare them to try! 

      Be well, everyone!
  • Mon, January 11, 2021 9:40 AM | Anonymous

    The Hot Seat is a series in which prominent industry experts answer grueling questions stemming from prospect research to consulting to analytics. How will they do under pressure? Read to find out!

    Jennifer Filla

    President, Aspire Research Group LLC; CEO, Prospect Research Institute

    Jennifer Filla is a veteran fundraiser with a focus on prospect research. As president of Aspire Research Group, she helps organizations find and connect with their best donor prospects. She is also CEO and Founder of the Prospect Research Institute, which provides step-by-step, hands-on learning to the fundraising research community. She is co-author of “Prospect Research for Fundraisers: The Essential Handbook” and has served as a volunteer and trustee for a number of organizations.

    1. If someone wanted to become a consultant in prospect development, what would be the most important first step? 

      Many people want to become a consultant because they love doing the work and want the autonomy that comes with being your own boss. That was me back in 2007! I like to say the joke was on me because the reality is that while I was doing the work, I also had to bring in the clients. That meant a much heavier workload and less financial security! And working sales was anything but comfortable for me.

      Consulting has been a personally rewarding journey for me, but it has also been a lot of really, really hard work. If I were going to do it all over again now, my first step would have been to better define what was either making me unhappy with work and/or what seemed so attractive about consulting. Then frame it like any other research project and seek to find out if consulting really was a good solution for me.

      I’d like to believe that I would still have chosen consulting, but that I might have gotten additional education sooner for sales and other business skills.

    2. What are your predictions for the prospect development industry in the next 15 years? 

      Information technology has been driving our industry, and software products and companies are now being built and scaled that specifically target the nonprofit sector and fundraising. But we know that Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are fueled by BIG data. A nonprofit doesn’t necessarily need its own big data to benefit from models created, but having your own data is where it begins and is way more powerful.

      If, according to Guidestar (2017), 66.3% of nonprofits have annual budgets of less than $1 million, who can afford to implement A.I. over the years it takes for an A.I. program to learn the business? For that matter, what nonprofit budget size is likely to have a large enough constituency for fundraising to benefit from A.I.? Probably one with a lot more than $1 million!

      For this reason, I suspect that the relatively tiny number of nonprofits at the top will pull even further ahead through the various uses of A.I. The smaller nonprofits will continue to struggle with basic data integrity and analytics implementation issues. What does this mean for prospect development? Lots of opportunity!

      If you work at the big organizations, you can develop specialty skills and receive the accompanying higher compensation, whether that is data science or the analytical prowess to translate information overwhelm into insight and action.

      If you work at the majority of smaller organizations, you can remain a generalist with positive impact for much longer, and in a position where data analytics skills, such as regression models in Excel, will continue to have the potential for outsized impact. 

      As A.I. matures in the fundraising industry and the solutions for the big nonprofits spin into products for smaller nonprofits, prospect development professionals also have the perfect skill set to understand how they work and help organizations make better purchasing and implementation decisions.

      The future is a BIG question and A.I. is only one piece, but I don’t want to close without suggesting another possible opportunity for development research professionals: jobs outside of nonprofits. Fundraising consulting firms of all sizes are already hiring for prospect research and analytics. As the for-profit industry around fundraising continues to grow, new positions are likely to become available for the prospect development skillset.

    3. True or False: Prospect Research can strategically encourage philanthropic giving. Please include a why with your response.

      True. Prospect research professionals have always held a double-edged sword: we choose what to include, and what not to include when we present information to the people who need to act on that information. While prospect research professionals alone are unlikely to effect organizational-wide cultural change, we can choose what words we use to communicate and how we frame the results of data analysis.

      For example, if we notice that the founder of the family business recently named his daughter CEO and retained chairmanship of the board, or a similar situation with a family foundation, we can do more than state the facts. We can suggest that the development officer explore in conversation with the prospect whether there are family succession goals that could be furthered through philanthropy.

      We could also “anchor” development staff on metrics such as affinity or philanthropic inclination by presenting those ratings first, especially in a numerical rating. To the human mind a rating of “10-5-5” is going to feel like a better score because it leads with the number ten and a rating of “5-5-10” is going to feel like it is not as good because it leads with the number five. If the first number represents affinity and the last number represents ability to give, you are encouraging the end user to favor affinity.

      With deliberate attention and effort, we can recognize many ways to strategically encourage philanthropy giving.

  • Thu, November 12, 2020 2:46 PM | Anonymous

    Apra-IL recognizes and acknowledges the heaviness and anxiety that many are experiencing due to the pandemic, and is starting this new series entitled, The Prospect Development Professional’s Haven, as a calming and reflective safe space. We are providing a space for you to anonymously share questions and reflections during these difficult times, pertaining to your work and role because many can relate. In times like this, you have to know that you are never alone.

    Disclaimer: The Apra-IL writer is not a licensed therapist or counselor, therefore, please seek professional guidance beyond this series.

    Around mid-March 2020, life changed and so did the planned content for the Apra-Illinois blog. 

    Everyone has been forced to make a strong and conscious pivot due to what the world is experiencing. And many lessons have been learned along the way thanks to The Prospect Development Professional’s Haven.

    Move away from juggling to acceptance, sometimes, juggling two extremes can put unwarranted pressure on someone to be in two mental spaces at once – when you drop one you feel sad for being more engaged in another. Accept that in your new normal, there are people who are still millionaires, you are still a researcher who has great work to do, and your world and community is hurting but it will regain itself slowly. You can do both in this time, and by accepting you are alleviating the pressure of caring about one more than the other.

    Practice Transformative listening, this happens when you hear something, reflect, ask corresponding questions, build on the topic, participate in being fully present (mind, body, and soul), and acknowledge the truths (whether you agree with them or not).

    In July 2020, Prospect Development Professional, Beth Inman, shared “Think about questions to ask your supervisor if you are furloughed. For example, how will the organization communicate with those who are furloughed? Will you have access to your files/emails/intranet (your org's HR site, for example)? If you're going to file for unemployment, it wouldn't hurt to research what you will need to apply in your state so you have an idea of what to prepare. In some cases, it can take weeks for the benefits to kick in, so filing sooner rather than later is a good idea. Now is also a good time to review your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile and make sure it's up to date. If you decide to start a job search, it's good to have these documents in their best shape. And, if you start applying for positions, reach out to your references to confirm they're still willing to be a reference and give them a heads up if you learn an organization is contacting your references. If you use your work email for Apra and other professional listservs, make sure you update it to your personal email to ensure you continue to get important information. And, finally, practice self-care and utilize the Apra community! Self-care looks different for everyone but it's so important!”

    Normalize the betterment of mental health by talking about it, sharing stories of good and bad work experiences, seeking therapy, and ways to better oneself physically, mentally and emotionally.  

    As working from home has been prolonged for many, there are five ways to find moments of peace while working from home - take technology breaks; make sure you prioritize self-care; try new things and test out ideas; daydream and take time for reflection; and catch up with coworkers. 

    As many are doing the work to create a more inclusive donor base that is truly reflective of the world, it is important to remember that as you aspire, continuously do the internal work for the external work to flourish. In October 2020, Prospect Development Professional, Marissa Todd, shared “We know we have to do better, and I am reading, learning, and advocating for ways to create inclusivity in the workplace and our donor community.”

    Creating this series and space for reflection, discussion, and storytelling during 2020 has been more than enriching, it has been an important and challenging outlet. I hope the Apra community continues to create opportunities that preserve professionals’ expression and experiences even in times of difficulty, for we all can learn and lean on one another. 

  • Thu, October 08, 2020 2:46 PM | Anonymous

    Apra-IL recognizes and acknowledges the heaviness and anxiety that many are experiencing due to the pandemic, and is starting this new series entitled, The Prospect Development Professional’s Haven, as a calming and reflective safe space. We are providing a space for you to anonymously share questions and reflections during these difficult times, pertaining to your work and role because many can relate. In times like this, you have to know that you are never alone.

    Disclaimer: The Apra-IL writer is not a licensed therapist or counselor, therefore, please seek professional guidance beyond this series.

    A conversation: How to be good to yourself featuring Marissa Todd, Development Director

    Marissa, I’ve enjoyed seeing how you have publicly shared the ways you are being good to yourself during such uncertain and tense times. You recently started therapy, playing the guitar, and you like to write cards to people. 

    Let’s talk first about being good to oneself. How do you define that?

    Marissa: I define being good to oneself as prioritizing ones’ mental and physical well-being. I know I can’t be a good partner, colleague or friend if I’m not taking care of myself. I like the bucket analogy – I can’t fill others buckets if mine is empty. 

    When did, being good to yourself, become important to you and how did you decide that these previously mentioned ways were how you wanted to take care of yourself? 

    Marissa: Being good to myself has always been important – and that importance seems to go up when things are particularly overwhelming or stressful and I struggle to just get out of bed and face the world. I’ve tried many things over time: exercise, reading, and cooking. During the early stages of the pandemic, I struggled to read for about a month or so (like I would read the same sentence over and over for five minutes and then just get frustrated) and I also got really tired of cooking. Not being able to go to the gym, and just feeling worried all the time made me reconsider how best to fill my bucket and create some sense of peace and happiness. Taking a step back from social media has certainly helped.

    How did taking a step back from social media help?

    Marissa: Doomscrolling is real, and it takes a toll. When most of what you see is reminders of all the terrible things happening, it’s easy to get sucked into a negative place. Also, being connected to people who are not socially distancing or wearing masks can really amp up anxiety, especially if they are family or people you will have to interact with at work. Social media can take up a huge amount of time, so, I replaced that time with reading and guitar, which feel more positive and productive. 

    Why did you choose to learn how to play the guitar? 

    Marissa: I have wanted a guitar since I was 12. I grew up listening to rock and roll and dreamed of playing in a band. We never had the money for a guitar. Now that we are at home all the time and spending less on dining out, vacations, etc. I decided it was the perfect time to invest in a guitar. Also, I read a book about Digital Minimalism and one of the suggestions was to develop a productive hobby (using your hands) so that you were engaging your brain. The book gave me the extra push I needed to just do it.

    You work in prospect development, and you know that there are days that can be overwhelming or stressful; With the world in chaos, how has your understanding of being good to oneself changed or perhaps stayed the same? 

    Marissa: I don’t know that my understanding has changed. More reconfirmed that self-care is SO important and if we don’t take care of our mental health, as well as our physical self, it is hard to function. I am hopeful that one good thing that will come out of this pandemic is there will be less stigma around mental health care and perhaps in a super ideal world, we would actually provide more financial resources for it. I’m lucky my employer has an Employee Assistance Program that provides so many free sessions, but many folks who are feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, etc. and don’t have the resources to pay for mental health care, or even know where to start. Therapy comes in all shapes and sizes, and finding the best fit can be intimidating.

    Can you tap into this intimidation alittle, why is it intimidating? And for us in this profession I think I’ve noticed difficulty in reasoning with equity while researching the ultra-wealthy. How do you reason with your job, societal inequity, and foster self-care?

    Marissa: Regarding intimidation – I think because we don’t talk about mental health very publicly, it can be kind of daunting to figure out how to find a therapist. And every therapist has a different style. It’s important to find someone to talk to that you are comfortable with, but it can be difficult to know how to decide that and then walk away from a therapist when you don’t click.

    Societal inequity is on my mind all the time. I have been very open with my boss that I am actually struggling with feeling like this is the right job for me at times. I have a law degree and over 15 years of fundraising experience, and often I feel like I should be using my skills to help advance social justice. She reminds me art is a source of comfort and solace, speaks truth, and reflects the time it was created. However, museums historically are not diverse in terms of donors and board leadership. We know we have to do better, and I am reading, learning, and advocating for ways to create inclusivity in the workplace and our donor community. I’ve gotten very good at being uncomfortable (and by extension making others uncomfortable by speaking up) because that is what is necessary for us to change for the better.

    Thank you, Marissa, for allowing these valid feelings and experiences to be shared within The Prospect Development Professional’s Haven.

    If you want to share a question or reflection at The Prospect Development Professional’s Haven, please email us at apraillinois@gmail.com 

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